After the Accessibility Audit

money box

Cheers for you and your company.  You’ve done the accessibility audit.

Accessibility Audit

Either you just heard about or know about the need to make all websites compliant for people with disabilities OR you got an unwelcome letter from the Department of Justice (DOJ) or the Office of Civil Rights (OCR). You went ahead and hired a company to do an accessibility audit.

If the audit company was good they went through your website or other software and measured it against Section 508 (US Federal government standards) or WCAG 2.0 (International guidelines which are now partially included in Section 508).

In either case you got a report and are working with your development team to fix any flaws. That was a worthy use of $5k – $20k of your company money.

Done, right?  Not so fast.

More work to be done

The chances are really, really good that your company is still using inaccessible software and hardware that is also covered under Section 508 standards.

One way to minimize your risk is to stop purchasing Information and Communication Technology (ITC) which fails accessibility tests. That’s correct. Only you and your procurement department stand between inaccessible software and hardware and your employees, students, customers and whomever else you represent.

Procurement training

Get training for those procurement professionals NOW. Make sure the training includes how to ask for and analyze the latest VPAT (Voluntary Product Accessibility Template), which is a vendor-created document that tracks a specific product that you might buy to the Section 508 and/ or WCAG 2.0 standards and guidelines.

VPAT training

You should be asking for a VPAT in every RFP and every time you look to purchase any sort of ICT (phone systems, printers, software packages, computers, laptops or tablets, etc. etc).

An “average” company spends between 4 and 6% of their annual budget on ICT purchases. For a company with a $15 million budget that means annual expenditures of $600k to $900k. With that much money on the table the cost for high quality training and guidance at $6k to $10k is just a drop in the budget.

Seek out an accessibility specialist who can train your staff either onsite or remotely, help staff to learn how to analyze VPATs. This specialist should also be able and available to coach your staff on what questions to ask vendors AND what answers to accept.

VPATs – publish or perish

hard at work testing for VPAT

Help – what is a VPAT?

I still remember the first time I heard of a VPAT. I had just moved to the Boston area to work on the UX team at EBSCO Publishing. My new manager greeted me with “I am so glad you are here! We need to update our VPAT as soon as we can. You can get started on that right away.”

I didn’t have the heart or confidence to tell her I had no idea whatsoever what a VPAT was so I used my default which is to say, “Of course. I’ll get right on it.”

Fast track!

I immediately got a copy of their outdated VPAT, looked up the template on the ITIC site and figured out that there was an incredible amount (like weeks of testing) that should back up a VPAT. Oh, and along the way, I figured out that VPAT meant “Voluntary Product Accessibility Template”. Also that it is an industry standard way, courtesy of the ITIC (Information Technology Industry Council),  to tell your customers how well (or poorly) you have conformed to the accessibility standards for software or hardware set by the US Government.

I also learned that the reason the sales department had sent up an emergency “Get us a current VPAT!!” distress signal was because they were in the midst of sales negotiations where the library customer demanded a VPAT or they would not buy! This stance is likely to produce panic in any salesperson.

The race is on!

Luckily for them I had a very good history of prioritizing testing so that business critical needs would be met on time.  So, I decided what could and could not be tested on the EBSCOhost site in the immediate future. I set about doing that. EBSCOhost is a platform which allows a library to present databases of information, eBooks and other content to their customers. Using a subscription model approach a library can offer their customers an amazing amount of information at a set price.

From an accessibility point of view the content presents problems.  The content is produced by many, many publishers who have no uniform standard of producing content that meet the Section 508 or WCAG 2.0 guidelines. This means  there may or may not be alt text for images. There might not be captioning, if the content has videos. There may not be proper coding.  A person who cannot use a mouse might not be able to move through the pages using only a keyboard or similar device. The pragmatic truth of this situation is that, while the platform might be very compliant some of the content probably will not be.

My VPAT, produced in a couple of weeks, of the large and complex EBSCOhost platform helped save the deal and was used for a couple of years until the code had changed enough to merit a new VPAT, which someone else tested for and documented.

My takeaways

VPATs are largely used to facilitate sales when customers demand them as part of their RFP sales process.

VPATs are only as good as testers and evaluators make them.

VPATs are a moving target. They are not written in stone, but in digital bits, subject to updating as code and conditions change.

Dynamic Duo drives accessibility at WKU

Laura DeLancey
Laura DeLancey, Electronic Resources Librarian
Shaden Melky, Accessibility Specialist

Laura DeLancey, Electronic Resources Librarian at Western Kentucky University (WKU) and Shaden Melky, Library Technology Consultant (Accessibility Specialist) work well together.

Their teamwork, along with a University-wide accessibility initiative, produces better and richer inclusion for students with disabilities on campus and in their distance learning programs.

Laura, who received her library degree from Indiana University, and then moved to WKU several years ago,  says that what draws librarians into the field is that “people are passionate about providing quality information resources to everyone, from whatever economic background. Public libraries are free. This (working on accessibility) is a logical extension of that.”

“There is a whole population born with disabilities and then there are the many who are aging and their eyes aren’t working as well. I had to redo my own glasses prescription recently at the ripe old age of 32!”

Shaden was practically raised into her current position. She was born in Bowling Green, Kentucky to a family who had immigrated from Syria. Her mother, Huda Melky (now retired) was the long term ADA Compliance Director, Equal Opportunity Director & Title 9 Coordinator at WKU. Huda developed the policies and procedures for ADA compliance that are now the backbone of a university wide initiative for accessibility. Shaden says “my mother started ADA here with Section 504 in the early 90’s, then we updated to Section 508. It’s taken us 20 years to get here.”

Laura chimes in, “It’s almost like ‘why shouldn’t we work on this?’ We work tirelessly to provide access to every other patron group!”

Shaden has merged two life long interests, health care, which consumed her earlier career, and technology.  “One of my biggest things is I like to help people. That’s why I went into health care. Technology is my strength.  By incorporating the two I found my niche.  It’s wonderful for me! I’ve been doing this for 3 ½ years. It’s always a challenge, but then we work it through and meet the challenge.”

An early experience with her gymnastics coach still resonates with her. “I was a gymnast when I was a kid. The coach had gymnasts with Down’s Syndrome or something like that. I still remember watching the smiles on their faces, showing how much they could accomplish. It sticks with me until today.”

University Wide accessibility Initiative

The university wide initiative for accessibility has objectives that cover three main areas:

Librarians and others

  1. OU Campus™, a WYSIWYG CMS (Content Management System) purchased through OmniUpdate. Like over 700 other colleges and universities, WKU uses OU Campus™ to communicate with students and potential students
  2. Library Databases. Like most universities WKU purchases and leases many databases from multiple vendors to allow students and faculty a rich and searchable fountain of knowledge
  3. Distance Learning. WKU has online degrees and individual classes that serve past the borders of the physical campus

The accessibility team which includes the university attorney,  a website ADA consultant, someone who works on the WKU version of the OU Campus™ (@ 700 higher education organizations use this CMS) and a WKU Distance Learning representative, as well as Shaden.

Part of her contribution is to share accessibility reports she has generated using HiSoftware. This is also a time for her to advocate for adding resources like the graduate student they hired through Student Accessibility Resource Center (SARC) who was blind and helped enormously with testing using JAWS screen reader.

“If Distance Learning didn’t have Sam to help with that they wouldn’t have discovered several issues. We’ve incorporated everything he discovered into distance learning and into the library.”

Why use HiSoftware?

Adverse legal actions at another universities prods similar organizations to take concrete action. When Penn State reached a settlement against a lawsuit which claimed lack of access for blind students in multiple software areas, WKU took notice. This led to the decision to include a university wide scanning tool. There are a number of tools on the market which can be used to automatically scan many webpages at a time and provide accessibility audit reports.

“We looked at Deque, which we thought was the best option, but that was out of our price range (at $150K annually). HiSoftware owned by Cryptzone won out. At $20K to purchase plus $1500 annually to update we decided we could work through some of the kinks.”

“In all honesty,” says Shaden, “HiSoftware has been good to us. We run scans on the library databases. We do a mock queries, taking each database, search for the term and locate the resources with the most varied content, like PDFs, video files, etc. If anyone asked I would say that doing a local scan is easiest for databases. We did go through a lot of trial and error with both Firefox and Internet Explorer (IE) scanning systems. There were a lot of glitches and we even got viruses. HiSoftware had advocated for using Selenium, but their own scanning system used through IE proved to be the best. We then went with local scanning as IE is being deprecated.”

Even good software has glitches

HiSoftware generates detailed summary reports which Shaden shares with both the WKU accessibility committee and with vendors to explain the issues with existing software. When she first sent the PDF reports to the vendors they sent back notes. “We can’t open the file!”

After opening a ticket with HiSoftware, both Shaden and the company spent 6 long months testing and trying repeatedly to understand why the reports she could see on her computer were not translating properly to the vendor.

“It turned out that the reports were browser based and needed a special API in the HiSoftware package so we could share the PDFs!”

With that API in place all is well, except… that, because the reports are so technical and detailed Shaden has to produce another “light weight” version for some of the vendors who do not have technical staff on hand to fix the problems.

Laura adds, ” Some vendors would be thrilled if you tell them the line of HTML code they need to fix. Others will have no way of using that information.”

The good news — over time the reports have shown a lot of improvement in the software WKU uses. So, the HiSoftware investment, with Shaden’s inputs and modifications, has really paid off.

VPATs – something to chuckle over

VPATs (Voluntary Product Accessibility Templates) are documents tied to Section 508 compliance. In short, a vendor may be asked by a procurement officer, or within an RFP, to add a VPAT for their software products when bidding on a contract. This VPAT should have resulted from the vendor testing their software against the 508 standards and reporting whether or not the product successfully meets them.

Sounds easy, right?

“Some of the VPATs are very entertaining,” says Shaden with a grin. “When I’m having a bad day I just pull them out and have a look at one of them.”

Laura adds, “It’s really obvious that some of the vendors have a team that works on these, like EBSCO and Elsevier. They are actually familiar with the concepts. Others don’t have a clue as to what we are asking for. I really do think their sales reps fill them out!”

A couple of years ago Laura and Shaden collaborated to check the library database software products against the VPATs provided by vendors. In an extensive and well researched article she shared the results with the library community. Shaden used HiSoftware to check databases against 17 separate VPATs.

Analysis was done (16 out of 17 VPATs proved to be at least partially inaccurate in their self-assessment of their products.) Laura published an article in Library Hi Tech in 2015 with all the details.

“I’ve also compiled some VPATs I have gotten permission to post publicly on a website for Library Accessibility. We are looking for a more permanent home and soliciting up-to-date VPATs to add so that the whole library community can see how the vendors are faring in this area.”


Laura’s responsibilities have changed over the past three years she has been with WKU. While she still participates in accessibility issues, this primarily means that she is involved in procurement, budgeting, consulting with Shaden and presenting at a couple of conferences every year.

“Every year I train librarians on the subject at one or two conferences. We talk about what we are doing here at WKU; what they need to be doing. There is a LOT more interest than there was even a couple of years ago. More people sign up for my workshops. More people stop by after the presentations. And I am not the only one presenting on the subject. There might be 4 or 5 different people involved,” says Laura.

“A great example is the Kentucky Convergence Conference. A couple of years ago we sent in a proposal, which was not accepted. This year the whole conference theme is: ‘Making Higher Education Accessible.”

Another conference Laura presented at this past April was the Electronic Librarian Resources (ER&L) Conference in Austin, TX.  “We did a 4 hour hands-on workshop on how to make resources accessible in the library. I was so happy that there were 3 other programs on accessibility at the conference. It was great that they were librarians that I’d never even met! People are working on this!”

Librarians who have Electronic Resources or Distance Learning responsibilities and titles are the center of the action right now. Very rapidly this is becoming a sought after skill set throughout the library eco-system.


The long term WKU accessibility efforts show how complex the effort is to ensure inclusion for all students at university level with regard to software accessibility. It’s pricy, it’s an ever fluid target and it takes a dedicated team to do it right.

Fortunately WKU has two excellent advocates in Laura DeLancey and Shaden Melky! They are leading the way, building on 20 years of ADA compliance and efforts at the school. And there is no end in sight.

Amy Netzel, Accessibility Technologist

Amy Netzel

Amy NetzelAmy Netzel is amazingly cheery and positive; definitely the kind of person who evokes a feeling of well being. She is an Accessibility Technologist at Wake Technical Community College (WTCC) in Raleigh-Durham area for the past several years. It’s been a busy time as she works directly with faculty to create accessible documentation that can be used in class and online.

I interviewed her and asked some pointed questions about how she started out in accessibility. The path she traced started in education, went into instructional technology, currently works as co-lead on a large community college eLearning initiative. She will be seeking another Master’s Degree (Instructional Design + Media hybrid) soon even as she continues her work with Wake Tech.

“I started out as a classroom teacher in public school. Most of my accessibility knowledge was limited to the peripheral view that a person gets when they participate in IEP meetings. But, I always had a technical bent. People would ask me to help them with any new technology that we came across and I was happy to do that. When I decided to leave classroom work and work in tech I went to an educational website.”

Alt Text as a beginning

“Six months into that job we were working on alt text. The big push was to make the materials accessible for screen readers. As I dug deeper I realized that we didn’t even have an in-house copy of the screen reader software. By the time I figured out just what the alt text was supposed to do I was hooked, because we were doing this for people. Was it correct? What else did we have to do?”

Gradually, like any good puzzle solver, Amy put the pieces together to identify how to not only support the alt text, but also to caption videos and apply great UX concepts to her work.

Videos that explain “How to…”

When she moved on to Wake Tech she was pressed into service to train the faculty. This was often fun, sometimes frustrating, and resulted in some very exceptional videos which would be useful for anyone looking for simple, straightforward information on how to make materials, videos, PDFs, Word Docs accessible. To view them go to the YouTube playlist for Wake Technical Accessibility videos. Main takeaway is how to explain tricky accessibility concepts so simply that they are teachable to anyone, even those who were originally resistant or had no experience with accessibility whatsoever.

The video captioning program at Wake Tech has grown so large that another team member coordinates the work of multiple work-based learning students. Amy’s tasks in 2016 are focussed on co-leading a college-wide eLearning intro for students.

Amy has moved on (mostly) from directly creating the instructional materials herself to being a co-leader for the college wide program for eLearning for students. Of course the explanatory videos are captioned!

Faculty Training

Another part of her eLearning responsibilities is faculty training.  She uses the accessibility training materials. It gives Amy a chance to support faculty directly. The day we interviewed she had just received a PowerPoint that a faculty member was going to use for a classroom presentation. In this role Amy will sit down with the faculty person and show them what does and does not conform to the Wake Tech accessibility standards.

Amy has seen a shift in resistance over the years. “Wake Tech rolled out accessibility in 2009. At that time the resistance came from faculty members not wanting to do it or thinking it was just ‘too much work’.”
Both resistance trends continue with additional statements like “Why are we spending so many resources on this?” Because the college is very much behind the initiative to use Universal Design and make sure that all course offerings are accessible to all it means that Amy is on solid ground in answering these objections. Hard to argue with the top ranking officials!

Interestingly enough, the original impetus towards accessibility has been “a grassroots efforts. Each big accessibility change has come from a faculty member asking a publisher ‘Is this accessible?’ We do try to teach them that in eLearning support — to question the publishers. From there it bubbles up to a department head. Then I hear about it and try to get clarification on what the issue is.”

“Right now, at the top, the college is doing a risk assessment to see where we stand, where are some of our problem areas. There’s going to be a game plan laid out from there. They are our biggest supporters right now.”

NCCCS five year accessibility initiative

“North Carolina Community College Systems is smack dab in the middle of a five year initiative around accessibility. This started in early 2014.”

“At one time I was traveling around to provide training to other community colleges. It was a lot of fun! We have one of the three VLC (Virtual Learning Centers) at Wake Tech which is a central location for accessibility resources. One of my colleagues heads that up and with it, the traveling around.”

“We want a repository through the VLC of ‘How To’ documentation so all around the state faculty and staff can easily figure out how to make materials accessible. I’ve been asked to contribute to that. Someone else at Central North Carolina Community College has been asked for their input on web accessibility. This is going to be great if we can get this together!” Amy concludes with a lift in her voice.

Amy still does presentations. She mentions that “Four or five times lately I’ve finished the presentation and had someone quietly seek me out and say, ‘I’m so glad you mentioned color contrast and color vision deficiency. I can’t see green and I’m so glad you included it.’ This is a hidden disability. That’s why we talk about Universal Design so much. We create for everyone. It makes it easy. Teaching the faculty how to more easily use Word and PowerPoint makes them happy because it makes their own job easier and more efficient.”

The Future!

Next steps? Blogging. Further Education. Book.
Ambitious – nah!

Blogging: Amy has a lot of ideas for blog articles. One is how to roll accessibility into the planning process of the document, course, assessment instead of looking into it after the fact.

Further education: Part of her plan to help people design courses includes earning an ‘Instructional Design and Media’ hybrid Master’s Degree.

Book: She wants to write a book about accessibility which would cover a lot of practical topics gleaned from her years of experience. I want a first copy of that one!

Speaking: Engagement in October, 2016 at the North Carolina Community College Distance Learning Conference. Speaking about eLearning Intro, not accessibility. On her own time she is speaking at a local Girl Develop It – RDU local Meetup.

Human face of accessibility

Joseph in wheelchair

joseph in wheelchairThe key reason to plan website and other software accessibility is to enable all people to have equal access to tech. This slide show walks various personas through a popular HR recruiting site. It concentrates on the Assistive Technology devices they use.

A simple thing like using only a keyboard and not a mouse can make it difficult to navigate through a webpage.

If you are using a screen reader because you can’t see the screen and hit an error message which is silent, how do you know what just happened?

If page design is not logical is it more difficult to find what you want on a page when it is blown up to 800% of the designer’s expected size?

Famous People with Mental Health Challenges

Star Wars Lego robots fight

Star Wars Lego robots fightPresentation given at Boulder Chamber of Commerce, January 26, 2016. Panel discussion for local employers. Purpose was to de-mystify hiring people with mental health challenges.

When people see that famous people who have respect and admiration have contended with a mental health illness that knowledge alone can change the stigma attached to mental illness.

This slideshow was assembled from a WCVB (Boston) article (2013)


To recruiters: 5 myths about QA accessibility testing

woman recruiter reviewing work order

woman recruiter reviewing work orderA new flavor of QA job order is rolling into recruiters nationwide. This is a request for an immediate, experienced QA professional who does accessibility testing. Here are timely suggestions for what the recruiter needs to ask of:

  1. The employer at time of receiving the job order
  2. The candidate at time of initial screening/ interview


First: a short background and list of some terms the recruiter needs to get up to speed on the topic. What, homework!? Yes, homework, so you’ll do your job right.

Even though the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) is 25 years old its application to software is still being defined. In short, this means that you are not going to find an exact definition anywhere of what the exact expectation of success is in this area.

With that said, gain some passing understanding of what these two terms mean: “Section 508” and “WCAG 2.0”.

Section 508 is a set of standards the US Federal Government has established to measure the Electronic and IT hardware and software it uses against. Please note that these standards were last updated in 2000 (which is a lifetime ago in internet terms.) A “refresh” of the standards is due soon.

This is where WCAG comes in. While the Section 508 has worked its way through the government process at a snail’s pace there are others in the world working on similar guidelines. Not a law, nevertheless most software companies look to align with these guidelines because they are more comprehensive and up to date. NOTE: Do not try to read most of WCAG. There are thousands of pages and as many ways to implement the guidelines as there are developers and planners.

5 myths:

Myth #1

Screen Reader (JAWS, NVDA) equals a “test tool”.

Reality Check:

Many employers will ask that the QA skill set includes “testing” with JAWS or NVDA.  Do not fall into the trap of thinking that these are test tools.

These software programs are Assistive Technology. They help people who have trouble accessing the internet or such programs as Microsoft Word convert the information encoded on the screen into audio or refreshable Braille outputs.

When testing for accessibility, qualified and aware QA professionals typically use screen readers to validate the end user experience of websites or software programs. This is hugely helpful, but is not the main method of testing.

Recruiter Question to Employer: Are there specific screen readers your users use? In the case of employee used software they probably have a preference. In cases where the software to be tested is for customers you will have to use best practices, which general means JAWS for US based companies. NVDA is also widely used.

Recruiter Question to prospective QA Employee:

What test tools do you use to validate the code against accessibility standards?

[Give points for answers such as WAT (IE toolbar from The Paciello Group or WAVE toolbar (Firefox and Chrome plugins from Webaim

Give points for answers which discuss evaluating the code for items like form labels, WAI-ARIA roles and properties]

If the QA person says they use JAWS, for instance, to test with, ask them how they do that.

Myth #2

User Experience is the same for all users.

Reality Check:

Even if a site is usable for the general public there is a need to do additional usability tests for people with disabilities (PWD)

Real example:  the code was properly designed to be read by a screen reader, but because the fields in the design of the screen were set up in a certain order the screen failed the usability test.

A resume upload page on a very common HR recruitment site had an input box below the Submit button. The sighted user could easily see the Comments box and choose to type something like “Portfolio” or “Cover letter”. The blind, screen reader user would not encounter that box until AFTER they had submitted their resume. At this point there was no chance to add the comment or go back.

The page passed the Section 508 and WCAG criteria but failed the simple usability test.

Recruiter Question to Employer: Will there be an opportunity in this role for the QA person to discuss the site with designers and/ or product managers?

[Give points whenever an employer understands that this discipline is a cross-functional, cross-team effort.]

Recruiter Question to prospective QA Employee: What experience do you have with creating/ testing against User personas? How much experience do you have working with people who need assistive technology (AT)?

[Give points for any recognition of what UX is, what personas are and, most of all, if the QA resource has worked with PWD.

Give points if the QA resource has had any experience explaining that websites/ other software may present challenges to those who are using AT. If they have done so, ask them to describe the outcomes. ]

Myth #3

You have to test all pages on a site to do an accurate accessibility test.

Reality Check:

Given that so many sites have hundreds, or even thousands of pages, it is impractical to comprehensively test them.

The usual method is to concentrate on the primary pages which handle the most user traffic. (Home, Search results, Contact us, main shopping and check out pages, etc.) If those pages reveal serious problems they must be fixed first. Only later should the testing go deeper. Additionally, newly coded and added pages should include accessibility testing as they are prepared for production.

Recruiter Question to Employer: Will the QA resource be presented with the core workflows so they can include them in the testing? Who has developed the initial test plans?

[Give points if Product Management is involved]

Recruiter Question to prospective QA Employee: How many scenarios do you usually test? What are the main paths? Do you find that pages deeper in a site present different challenges than the Home page?

[Give points for any answers that indicate that the QA resource is familiar with accessibility being disproportionately built into the Home page and ignored further into the site. Give points to a QA resource who mentions that some features, while not on every page would warrant special testing – forms, videos (for captioning and general keyboard accessibility of video player controls)

Myth #4

Anyone who has a degree in Computer Science would know how to test for Accessibility.

Reality Check:

Fact is that most of the computer science programs, boot camps, and assorted free and for-pay courses do not even touch on accessibility related coding. Most of the programmers who know how to prepare their code for consumption by assistive technology and people who use alternative methods of understanding the UI have learned it “on the job” or by doing research on their own.

Recruiter Question to Employer: What specific skills are you looking for in a QA resource to test your site/ software for accessibility?

[Give points for any answer that acknowledges that most resources will not have gained this knowledge in a common computer science program. Give points if the company already has some knowledgeable people on the ground who can help the new QA resource.]

Recruiter Question to prospective QA Employee: Where did you learn about accessibility and accessibility testing?

[Be prepared to hear a long and drawn out version of their discovery process. Be patient and take notes. Do not believe them if they say that they easily discovered it in a class or another job.]

Myth #5

There is no need to do manual testing, because all the tests can be automated

Reality Check:

While there is much merit to automating as many checks against clean and correct code bases, even the most progressive automated testing tools can only check code violations (HTML mis-matches, for instance).

None of them can accurately replicate either the user experience for a person using keyboard only approach or various assistive technologies: See Myths #1 and 2.

Recruiter Question to Employer: Are you expecting to have the QA resource convert some of their tests to an automated system? If so, which one are you using and are you aware of any necessary accessibility plug-ins that will be required?

(Give points if they already understand that there is a limit to the usefulness of applying automated testing across the board to this effort. Part of your role here is to help set expectations of what is possible in reality.)

Recruiter Question to prospective QA Employee: Have you ever committed your accessibility tests to an automated process? If so, which one? How effective has this been? What do you know about accessibility plug-ins for the major automated test systems?

(Give points for honesty when the tester has not been able to do much useful with automated tools. Give big points if they mention anything covered in this article by CogApp or this one where researchers in Norway examined the results of 12 automated accessibility checkers. Yes, done in Norway, but the checkers are global.)

Wrapping it all up:

QA can and should do testing re accessibility diligently, deliberately and determinately whenever a software project is undertaken in 2016. However, that QA is by default dramatically different from other areas of QA.

Get familiar with the ins and outs and prepare to make significant money for your recruiting firm and your QA resources. This is a niche that is not going away.  Think about placing QA security testers and prepare to reap the benefits in the same kinds of ways.






QA for SaaS products

QA needs coffee

QA effectively applied to a SaaS product


QA needs coffeeI wish I could say that, when given the assignment of auditing an HR recruiting system delivered as a SaaS (Software as a Service) product I could have predicted exactly what path we’d have to go down to get fixes made. I could not have been more wrong.

For many years I worked on the vendor side. We owned the code and we fixed it. This process is well known in software circles.

In SaaS you subscribe to software and you are the customer. The vendor still owns the code, but they are on the opposite side of the development fence.

When working for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to assess the Oracle product Taleo, which we were going to use to update and modernize the hiring process, I invented the following process to get accessibility bugs fixed using trial and error as my guides.

First, I used a keyboard-only approach to audit the two initial sections of the HR recruiting system. Then I used the WAVE toolbar and the WAT toolbar to look into code violations. Then used both JAWS screenreader and ZoomText to replicate the user experience with assistive technology.

The candidate portal, where John and Jane Doe apply for a job, was written in HTML. There were bugs and issues, but they could be fixed. The hiring manager portal was another story. Written in a version of Flash called Flex it had no redeemable value for use with keyboard or JAWS screen reader.

Another day I’ll write about how we dealt with the hiring manager portal. This is to explain how we managed to get 20 accessibility fixes into the last two releases of the Taleo product.

As customers we had access to an externally facing web application where we could log bugs. In a four month period I logged 30 tickets, which represented 42 separate bugs (some were consolidated because they were similar) and worked with 17 different customer service agents (CSA) in the US, Romania and China.

The process of getting bugs accepted by the CSAs and moved to the next step, which is to place them in the internal development bug tracking system was painful and slow. Each CSA had to understand enough of both AT and the accessibility guidelines to believe that the issue was really an issue.

If they didn’t accept it as a bug then their default is to politely reject the bug and call it an “enhancement”. During the time I worked on this project Oracle opened a second website for enhancements where customers were encouraged to log their wish lists and try to socially promote them. I really hated this “popularity contest” approach but we had to use it.

We engaged in a series of cross functional meetings between the Commonwealth and Oracle representatives from sales, product management and customer service. We explained exactly what barriers a person using JAWS would face when trying to navigate the original site. In this way several “enhancements” were accepted into the faster track “development fixes.”

Of the original bugs filed, 21 were included in the past two releases with 8 more pending for the future. Although it seemed at times like I was doing the QA for Oracle on this product I really didn’t mind because I wanted to get the Commonwealth and other Taleo users the most accessible product possible.

Accessibility jobs

subway to work

Who is working in Accessibility now?

subway to workIt was intriguing to read Webaim’s July,  2014 survey results of accessility practioners. Vast oversimplification: 900 respondents, 90% of respondents work in US or Europe, 1/2 of them work in accessibility as a “primary” part of their jobs, however @ 60% of them work on accessibility less than 20 hours a week. Only 22% said they were developers and only ~4% said they were QA professionals. These numbers will get interesting later in this article. Median salaries were between $60k and $80k but fluctated widely depending on amount of time spent in accessibility, education levels, and industry (government/ corporation/ consultancy).

Reading (and participating) in the survey started me wondering if the field is getting more exposure. Are there really more jobs? What industries are looking to pay salaries to people with accessibility related skills?

So I set out to answer some basic questions. How many jobs are there in Accessibility? What kinds of skills are employers looking for? What is the growth potential in the market?

Gathering stats on accessibility jobs

Query on on October 25, 2015 using “%Accessibility%” in the title. No limits on location other than the United States. There were 107 results, some of which were redundant. Multiple recruiters were hawking the same position. Culling for duplicates I found 80 jobs. They are heavily weighted to IT (half were for developers or QA professionals), almost ¼ were management or administrative positions and the final ¼ were a mix of electronics, UI/UX, technical workers.

When I searched more broadly within using just the term ‘accessibility’ to pick up any jobs using the word in their descriptions I found 11,442 jobs. Unfortunately, many of these job descriptions include a phrase like “if you need accessibility accommodations to apply for this job, please contact <email and or phone number>” In other words, the jobs are NOT about accessibility.  Other off track uses of “accessibility” or words that stem from it are: “Access” databases, job includes enticing ”access” to areas of beaches, skiing or other amenities or job duties include “providing access to systems for onboarding new employees”.

The jobs that truly include some skills or expectations of understanding about This confirms our finding of the 80 jobs on which used the word in the title. More and more development opportunities include a mention of accessibility, especially for front end and full stack developers. Even though it is still rare to see the proper skills taught in computer science classes, the subject might be mentioned in boot camps. Anecdotally, developers just run across a request to “make the site accessible”, leading to them doing whatever research they are capable of and/ or have time for.

Query on on October 25, 2015. Same criteria as above. Job title contains “%Accessibility%”= 58 results. Keyword contains “accessibility” = 5,303 results. Again, roughly half were development or QA jobs, about a quarter could be cast as management/ administrative and the last quarter didn’t fit neatly into any category, thus we’ll call them “other” for the moment. Again, most of the jobs in the larger data set either reference the employers willingness to provide specialized accessibility support for their candidates or include some other use of “access” which is not relevant to our search.

Skills requested

What are employers looking for? From job descriptions:


“If HTML, JavaScript and CSS make you want to get out of the bed in the morning, this is probably  a good job for you.” – SSB BART Group, San Francisco

“Experience preferred in WAI-ARIA, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS (optional)” contract in Richmond, VA

QA testers:

“Screen readers, voice recognition, html/ CSS. Knowledge of industry standards and regulations (WCAG 2.0). Use of automated testing tools.” contract in Richmond, VA

“Be able to educate and guide engineers in best practices. Use and help improve existing processes.” Redmond, WA

Accessibility Lead:

“BA in HCI, Engineering or equivalent professional experience. Thorough knowledge of Accessibility guidelines. 5 years experience creating accessible products and using assistive technology. Three years native mobile experience with iOS/Android/ Win8/ web mobile expe

How many people have disabilities?

store signs

Statistics and the real story behind them

Census Bureau – 2012

shops-shopping-mall-signs“The U.S. Census Bureau released a report containing updated statistics on the population of people with disabilities in the U.S.  The Bureau reports that 56.7 million Americans (18.7% of the population) have some type of disability.

Some statistics from the report via Seyfarth Shaw’s very informative ADA Title III blog.

“The Bureau reports that among people age 15 and older:

8 million have a vision impairment

8 million have a hearing impairment

31 million have difficulty walking or climbing stairs, including 4 million people who use wheelchairs and 12 million people who use canes, crutches, or walkers

20 million have difficulty lifting or grasping.” 

Here’s another set of numbers to wrap your head around.

“More than 50 million Americans with disabilities – 18% of our population – are potential customers for businesses of all types across the United States.

“This group has $175 billion in discretionary spending power, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That figure is more than twice the spending power of American teenagers and almost 18 times the spending power of the American “tweens” market.”

Accessibility attracts not only people with disabilities but also their families and friends. Like others, these customers often visit stores, restaurants, movie theaters, and other businesses accompanied by family or friends. This expands the potential market exponentially!

This market is growing fast. By the year 2030, 71.5 million Baby Boomers will be over the age of 65 and demanding products, services, and environments that address their age-related physical changes.”

There’s a lot of money to be made in getting this right.

What retail stores can do

Tiffiny Carlson, The Mobility Resource writes via the Huffington Post about small retail shops and grocery stores. She includes tips like leaving room in the aisles so that people using a wheelchair can navigate through. There are good points discussing staff training so that employees know when and how to offer help.

She also emphasizes that the store will have a customer for life if they are treated well. Since most people who have a disability have family and friends those people will also want to sign on as loyal customers.

“There are over 48.9 million living with a disability in the U.S.

Taking notice and appreciating our buying-power can be one of the best business moves you’ve made all year. Our population just in the U.S. spends $150 billion annually.”

Mart Carts available

An article on Disabled World shows that even a temporary disability (like waiting for knee surgery can have a profound effect on one’s day to day ability to get around.)

This article brings very familiar stores and organizations into the conversation (Costco, Goodwill, Wal-Mart, Ace Hardware) into the conversation about which outlets in her area had mart carts available. The little observations about which stores had diligently plugged in the ones needing recharging and how helpful the staff was gives life to the conversation.

Staff training

Just in case you thought your staff had a full 7 seconds to make a good first impression, guess again. Most recent research reveals that a person makes a positive or negative judgement within 1/10 of a second — and they don’t usually change their first impression. Your staff, especially your front line staff, needs training and coaching to apply simple, practical standards when they encounter a person with a disability. Pret a Manger restaurants worked with the Equal Rights Center (ERC) in 2012 to make sure that their facilities were accessible and their staff trained in disability etiquette.

Depending on your business this might involve simple transactions, like offering to read a menu out loud to a customer with low vision or writing notes back and forth for a deaf customer. Your marketing and customer service department can also develop additional materials in Braille or audio which can be presented as options in a friendly and supportive manner.

We provide training materials to sensitize and support your support staff. Contact us for more information.